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Watauga Pioneers Secure Back-to-Back Conference Championships with Victory over Freedom HS

By Colby Gable

On Friday’s matchup against Freedom High School out of Morganton, NC, Watauga High School secured a 47-33 win, moving them to 10-1 overall this season and 6-0 in conference play. After the win, the team’s statewide ranking shifted +6 as reported by MaxPreps, and ended at #29 in North Carolina situated between Charlotte Country Day School and Christ School. Finishing the season undefeated in the conference has also impacted the team’s placement among 3A schools in the state, coming in at #8 overall with a #6 Strength of Schedule ranking among the 3A top 10.

The win came primarily through Watauga’s ability to dominate the rushing game led by quarterback Anderson Castle, who was recently selected to the North Carolina vs. South Carolina Shrine Bowl, The Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas was first played on December 4, 1937 in Charlotte, N.C., making it the oldest high school football all-star game in the nation.  The annual game features many of the top high school players from North and South Carolina is played to benefit the Greenville (South Carolina) Unit Shriners Hospital for Children and the 21 other Shriners Hospitals for Children© across the nation. Castle is the 3rd Watauga player in the last 12 years to be selected for the game.

Versus Freedom, Castle rushed for 21 carries totaling in 205 rushing yards total and 4 touchdowns to complete the day, including an impressive 13-yard score early on in the first quarter to give Watauga the lead from the game’s beginning. Despite the lack of a passing game as Castle only went 0 for 1 the entire 4 quarters, his combination of speed, physicality, and ability to effectively drive the ball down the field based on handoff-reads in the running game versus coverage-reads in the passing, allowed for a void in the passing attack. Castle was also accompanied by senior running back, Jake Watson, who on only 13 carries reached 143 rushing yards, averaging 11.0 per rush and finished the day adding on two touchdowns as well.

With the win, Watauga has now finished the season as Conference Champions in back-to-back seasons, and for Head Coach Ryan Habich, each of the past two has been special for different reasons. “Last year when we won was the first time since 1980 or ’81 that Watauga had finished as Conference Champs, and so coming into this year was especially a challenge because we lost a lot of good players,” Habich commented. “This year’s team wasn’t as big or deep as last season, and there is always a bullseye on your back each week going in as the reigning conference champs…but they did a tremendous job playing for one another and what we call ‘out-teaming’ the opponent by focusing on our primary goals for each week.”

Habich continued by discussing the future of the season and the upcoming schedule for the team now with the regular season behind them, “This year’s schedule was also tough as we played eleven straight games and didn’t get a BYE week until this week. So this week we’re looking forward to getting rest and preparing for the playoffs by getting ourselves healed up. We won’t know who we’ll be up against in the playoffs until this Saturday, so we will come back on the Monday after focusing on that. Based on our record and assuming we get a high seed, I would guess there would be two home games for the playoffs.”

Habich also describes this part of the year as time to “gear up for a new season, playoff season,” in efforts to approach each playoff game with a “Week 1” mentality where the team harnesses its focus on the opponent of the week as opposed to looking to the past, and avoiding getting relaxed from the accomplishments of the season.